Local Newsroom Proves Ability to Turn Out Voters in Rural Iowa

COURIER
3 min readAug 24, 2022

A COURIER NEWSROOM EXPERIMENT

COURIER, a first-of-its-kind news organization, has again set out to prove the unique distribution model it pioneers: boosting its local news coverage to foster greater participation in American democracy.

Following the positive results from COURIER’s experiment in the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2021, their Iowa-based newsroom, Iowa Starting Line (ISL), proposed using the primary on June 7th as another opportunity to evaluate the impact of boosted news on turnout in a real-world context, especially given the relatively small amount of money leading U.S. Senate candidates were spending on Facebook ads.

COURIER decided to run a $50,000 program boosting informative, unbiased Iowa Starting Line articles about the election and the candidates, with the goal of increasing voter turnout in the Democratic primary.

In consultation with Iowa Starting Line staff, twelve target counties were selected across the state that generally represented expansion opportunities for ISL’s target audience. The counties are generally blue collar, mid-size for Iowa, and located towards the eastern part of the state. Change in turnout in those counties relative to 2018 would be compared to change in turnout in the other 87 counties not tested.

The boosting program focused on informative content about the election and candidates running. As a reminder, COURIER newsrooms do not endorse candidates of any party, nor do they advise their readers on who to vote for through their coverage. Examples of the articles and social media content that were boosted as part of this program include:

With Iowa being a same-day registration state, COURIER employed a strategy to remove hardcore Republicans who were extremely unlikely to vote in the Democratic primary from receiving the ads on Facebook. The ads were delivered for two weeks before the June 7th primary, at a rate of eight impressions per registered Democrat. Interestingly, COURIER, through ISL, outspent Democratic candidate Abby Finkenauer ($34,221) and Republican candidate Chuck Grassley ($10,762) in the final month of the primary election. In that same month, Mike Franken spent $55,497, just over $5,000 more than COURIER.

In 2018, 182,749 people voted in the Iowa Democratic primary, while in 2022 158,742 Iowans voted. Turnout was therefore down across the board in the 2022 primaries, but COURIER’s analysis found that turnout decreased less in the counties we targeted with our boosted news coverage. Specifically, a regression analysis was used to determine whether the change in turnout in the target counties was statistically significant relative to the overall trends in the rest of the state. COURIER estimates 3,300 net votes were cast as a result of its $49,000 boosting program, which comes out to $15 per net vote.

This experiment further validates the impact of COURIER’s unique model and proves boosted news from local, trusted sources strengthens democracy and fosters greater voter participation.

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